So, we found ourselves walking past the newly reconfigured Banana Republic in SoHo at what must have been only moments after its soft opening began (the store officially opens on Thursday).
Honestly, we almost didn't go in —not because we are so very jaded that we don't care. The Shophound is always curious, but we know what it's like on the first day. Everyone is raring to go and they are so glad to see you! It can be a bit off- putting to say the least, but the folks at the new Banana have taken customer smothering to new, disturbing heights.
Let us note that the store was filled with more than overeager sales staff. It was also crawling, predictably, with Banana Republic executives who were standing around in typical fashion, either congratulating themselves on their beautiful new store or poking around the place making sure that every piece of merchandise was placed just so —the cuffs and collars on all the hanging shirts turned up at the correct angle, and every faced out coat paired with a suitably coordinated sweater and scarf. It's a salesperson's nightmare —like having 20 managers at once. It puts staff on their best selling behavior, which, paradoxically, is often, at the same time, their worst.
Was it rude for us to enter the store wearing earphones? Probably, but we weren't going to power down our iPod just to wander around a Banana Republic. You would think an observant salesperson would know how to approach someone with earphones who is clearly keeping to himself. It's not like they are a rarity in the iPod age, but we were stunned by how many people eagerly wanted to engage us in conversation even though our ears were obviously otherwise occupied. One determined woman launched into a whole story about how it was a soft opening and the store really was opening on Thursday and something about a charity shopping event and just wouldn't stop even after we looked at her funny, pulled one earphone out and said, "Okay, thanks". She mostly succeeded in interrupting a perfectly enjoyable edition of the "This American Life" podcast. Of course, she was nothing compared to the effusive gentleman greeting everyone coming and going at the door with wide swinging arms. "Thank you for choosing Banana Republic," he chimed as we exited while yet another person thanked us for visiting their new store at the same time.
As for the renovated store itself, it is an upgraded, glamorized version of the chain that has been subdivided, department store style, into smaller boutique-like sections, some devoted to the Heritage label or the more luxurious Monogram collection. This would be the store's outstanding modification. If you think the chain has downsized by combining its men's and women's stores into a single unit, think again. An entire second floor as been added for menswear, whose large shop a half a block away is about to be repurposed by The Gap.
The overhauled Banana should be safe to visit in a few weeks when everybody there calms down a little bit. In the meantime, be prepared, for better or worse, for an onslaught of attention.
Banana Republic 550 Broadway between Prince & Spring Streets, SoHo